President Obama's record $15 million fundraiser tonight at the home of actor George Clooney is being co-hosted by DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. In addition to being the largest single donor to the pro-Obama Super PAC Priorities USA at $2 million, Katzenberg's company is currently under investigation by the SEC for allegedly bribing Chinese officials.
The SEC investigation comes just weeks after Katzenberg announced this February that DreamWorks had struck a $2 billion deal to open a studio in Shanghai under the Oriental Dreamworks brand. The China deal was inked in a ceremony that featured Katzenberg alongside Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping, who stopped off in Los Angeles in February on his way back to China after a series of high-level meetings at the White House, including meetings with Obama.
Katzenberg joined Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Chinese vice president for a meeting that led to the DreamWorks deal. In an interview with the Financial Times, Katzenberg said the deal required Xi's personal approval in order to move forward.
The SEC investigation seeks to determine whether DreamWorks made illegal payments to Chinese officials in order to obtain the right to produce and distribute their films in the country. While DreamWorks has denied White House involvement in facilitating the deal, reports have confirmed that Biden and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk were personally involved in a parallel negotiation with the Chinese government to increase the number of films that Hollywood studios could release in China's tightly controlled and censored domestic film market.
Katzenberg has bundled at least $1 million for Obama, including $500,000 for the president's re-election campaign, in addition to his $2 million contribution to outside groups aligned with the president. The contributions have raised questions that political influence may have been brought to bear by the White House in helping Katzenberg secure the lucrative deal.
The Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan watchdog group, asked if "Katzenberg's support for Obama [helped] fast-track movie deal with China," but the studio refused to provide any response to the organization. Although DreamWorks has not registered to lobby the federal government, the Sunlight Foundation reports that DreamWorks "has never registered to lobby the federal government, but the largesse of its CEO has guaranteed access."